I have been a bit more bullish on the Lakers recently than, from what I can tell, your average fan. The Lakers won two games in December and wrapped the new year holiday with losses to the Mavericks (who are bad) and the Raptors (who are good). The Mavs loss was particularly dispiriting since the game featured a big lead, a 2nd half collapse, and effort levels that could be at best called sporadic and at worst at times reprehensible.
I remained optimistic about the team, though, because though stretches of poor play persisted their were lineups which were still performing well and, as noted, they were still taking leads in nearly every game they played. So, I chose to focus on the good aspects they were doing with the hope they would get more consistent at them rather than continue to find ways to undo those positives.
Partially against the Raptors and then fully against the Grizzlies, that’s exactly what occurred. The team played better, for longer, driven by strong performances from multiple players but especially D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Nick Young. Those first two names are important, of course. While Brandon Ingram’s two-way potential might exceed both Russell and Randle long term, what Ingram can be is ultimately an idea and not yet close to being actualized. We see flashes of light, but you cannot draw a masterpiece using a strobe light as your guide.
Russell and Randle, however, are closer to being more of what they can be and for longer periods in each game. This was on full display against the Grizz where the latter notched his 2nd triple-double of the season and the former passed and shot the hell out of the ball to be a true difference maker on offense. Add in a level of engagement and activity on defense from both which has not been there for most (if not all) of the season and you had two players who are still so young showing that they could carry a team. This is not a small thing, even if it’s what we all hope (and some expect) to be the case.
All of this matters for tonight’s game against the Blazers because I’m quite interested in seeing if the momentum can be carried forward — especially for Russell. The point guard will face Damian Lillard in his direct match up — one of the toughest and individual defender can find in the league. So, I wonder, can Russell continue to show defensive engagement and effectiveness? And, maybe more importantly, can he still bring a top level offensive game to the table when working hard and expending the amount of mental energy it takes to defend Dame? Inquiring minds want to know.
As for Randle, he will do battle against a rangy forward who will not be as strong as him but will be able to match quickness. Al Farouq Aminu is the Blazers’ best defensive player and he will hound Randle’s dribble and make it hard to create off the dribble — which is Randle’s primary strength. Still, I want to see if Randle’s patience and ability to use his power in tight spaces can get him good looks. Further, I want to see if those things can also continue to translate to the type of playmaking which has Randle averaging nearly 4 assists a game.
The other wrinkle for this game is who will start for Luol Deng, who is out with biceps tendonitis in his right arm. Will Luke put Clarkson in at SG and slide up Young? Will he just start Ingram? Both have their benefits and offer a nice lineup experiment worth looking into for longer stretches. Ingram offers defense, rebounding ability, and another ball mover to the starting lineup. His ball handling and ability to credibly set up the offense also has the ability to put Russell off the ball for longer stretches, which can unlock key aspects of Russell’s game and open up the offense by allowing him to post up and screen for teammates to help get them and himself open.
As for Clarkson, he could really benefit from playing in the more structured 1st unit and away from the pairing with Lou Williams where the team’s leading scorer tends to monopolize possessions. Lou leads the Lakers in usage rate and while Clarkson still boasts a healthy usage as well, it is often within the context of a “your turn, my turn” type of flow. Getting touches more organically out of the natural rhythms of the offense could do him some good. Playing with more floor spacers and, in general, more versatile offensive players in the starting group could also open up more playmaking chances for Clarkson too.
Getting back to Portland, just because the Lakers have the chance to do some of these things doesn’t mean it will happen easily. The Blazers are a bad defensive team, but have enough offense to turn the tenor of a game into a shootout where they can thrive. Further, that type of game tends to throw off game plans and get players into the type of mindset where they think everything will come easy. Until it doesn’t. Which is how a nice chunk of Lakers’ leads have been blown of late.
And Lillard, CJ McCollum, and role players like Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner do have the ability to turn a game. They can score in bunches and if the Lakers aren’t attentive and engaged defensively, they’ll do just that. They may do it even if the Lakers are. They are that good. So, I’m interested in seeing how it all goes. Dame normally kills the Lakers and that alone makes this game worth watching, even if he might carry some rust with him.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and TNT.
Russell will never be a great defensive player in a league dominated by fast point guards. At his best, he can stick a hand out into the passing lanes, collapse to the paint when he inevitably gets beat on the pick and roll, and run out to contest 3 point shooters. When’s he was active and interested during the first 12 games this season, he was a decent team defender. We have to hope that he will learn to play every possession with the same intensity.
On offense, he has to punish smaller guards by posting up and using his body to shield defenders when he comes of a screen and moves around the elbow to shoot a short jumper, move up and hit a floater, or find an open shooter.
At only 20, if he puts on some more muscle, maybe he can improve on finishing at the basket with those Euro-step moves so many lefties seem to thrive on.
Let’s look at three big guards and compare them in their second year:
Player A: 26.9 MPG., 15.2 PPG, .401 FG%, .389 3Pt%, .794 FT%, 3.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.8 TOPG
Player B: 26.7 MPG., 12.2 PPG, .436 FG%, .349 3Pt%, .843 FT%, 3.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.3 TOPG
Player C: 29.1 MPG., 12.8 PPG, .418 FG%, .359 3Pt%, .802 FT%, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.4 TOPG
Here’s a hint: they are all left handed and over 6’4″.
Which player would you take?
LonShapiro Hmmm. Given the limited info, I’ll with go with A because he has the best assist to turnover ratio. I’m guessing/hoping that it’s easier to lower turnovers than increase assists. Also like the higher 3pt % given where the game seems to be headed. The concerns are the FT%, which suggests maybe a lack of concentration and the difference between the FG% and 3PT%, which, I don’t know, maybe indicates some issues getting to the rim or creating a shot.
Wow, great insight from the limited information! I double checked all the numbers and found one typo. Player C had only 2.1 TOPG. Does your choice change because of this?
27.8% FG in first quarter but 13-15 from the FT line keeping Lakers close as they trail 29-24. Lakers will heat up and make this a game.
HEALTHY Lakers got hot!! 15-0 run!!!
Looking good thus far,.. and I’m liking what I’m seeing from Ingram !!
Great start to the 2nd as the bench shows some spurtability. Bench and big free throw advantage have the Lakers on the lead.
Now we need to hold this lead…
Nice 2nd Q. Lakers getting good contributions across the board. Defense is aggressive and causing turnovers leading to good shot opportunities. Lots to like!
The Blazers can no longer do with us, what they want to.
Our kids are growing up before our eyes,..
Good second quarter by the Lakers, active on defense and some good passing on offense. Liked what I saw from Ingram on offense one of his best games on that side of the ball.
Randle with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists with an outside chance at another triple double.
Hopefully the Blazers will fell the effects of playing last night and the Lakers can extend this lead in the third quarter. Like what I am seeing from the Lakers in a place that has given them trouble over the years.
2nd unit’s energy and precision spun blazers 2nd unit on their heels which made it difficult for blazers 1st unit to recover the lead back from lakers as first half closes. Thought Black’s third foul was going to hurt us. Good job by laker players and special nod to coach Walton’s substitution pattern mixing starters and 2nd unit.
It’s important to the players they maintain their energy on defense and offense as the blazer’s guards are capable of a comeback.
Either way, a solid learning experience.
Laker’s 2nd unit holding their own against blazer’s 1st unit as laker’s first unit come out flatter than a stack of pancakes. Another learning experience.
Nice block shot by Tarik Black
Of course they were going to blow the lead…
1st unit sees 2nd unit busting their collective behinds while maintaining a slight lead. Starters being subbed in as needed. Nice stragedy and working so far.
4th quarter should be exciting and coach Walton is giving everyone the opportunity to shine. And, he said he wants Randle to be great.
Come on fellas we can win this! Lillard is not 100% so hopefully we can get this win!
They got to keep an eye on McCollum he is the go to guy tonight 4 them.
Holy Cow! I didnt even get to finishing posting and CM bombed us…crap!
Walton needs to replace Lou,.. his shot is off and his defense is dead,..
Need to get those rebounds, Lakers being hurt by second chance points.
Those 2nd chance 3’s by the Blazers were killers.
& Paging Nick Young…Crunchtime calling! Hello!
Another damn game blown late…
Someone find Nick Young he is missing and on a Milk Carton!
That ending was pathetic…
Laker’s 1st unit loses lead to blazers 1st unit and the game. Should be an obvious learning experience.
Not great, chin up Randle.
Welp, Lakers with another tough lose, another lead they let get away as the offense stalled in the last few minutes of the game. They had a chance but could not make the plays to get the win as Portland did .
Well, they were competitive guys! This is probably the team we are going to be stuck with for the year maybe even next. I was hoping that we could unload either Nick or Lou to the Cavs but they traded for Korver.
Good effort. Poor execution in the 2nd half, particularly in the 4th quarter. Turner was a difference maker and 2nd chance points were back breakers. Lots of positive things to grow on. Russell asserted himself against pillars inthe 4th. Ingram had a good offensive first half and the bench had a very good 1st half as well. Winnable game that wasn’t won.
The Lakers must lead the NBA in the “+ 10 point leads blown” category and it can’t even be close…
Lou’s lack of defense was the difference maker! Luke should have put JC back in sooner to shut Turner’s srry self down! Also, should let DLO post Lillard all game its called a mismatch Luke. We are so stuck on that GS crap that we do not try to milk our mismatches until they adjust…young coach hopefully he will figure these things out.